The Night of the Shallow Grave
Written by Deanne Bertram
story is my first cross-over, containing characters from two different
beloved Westerns. In addition to The Rifleman, if you are knowledgeable
about the second show, you’ll recognize from the title of my story who I’ve
included. If you’re not sure… please read on and figure out if you can
guess before I divulge.
“No, don’t! Go way! Don’t! NO!” Lucas McCain heard
his thirteen year-old son Mark yelling from their bedroom. As the tall
rancher stepped through the doorway, the light from the front room vaguely
allowed him to witness his son tossing in his sleep, and thrashing his arms
around, evidently in the throes of a nightmare.
Lucas walked farther into the room and lit the
lantern on the table near the head of his son’s bunk. The father sat down
on the wooden slat and gently shook Mark’s shoulders, “Mark, Mark, you’re
okay, just a bad dream. Wake up son,” he kept saying until Mark opened his
eyes. The boy’s eyelids fluttered as sleep had yet to fully vacate his
Lucas recognized the look of fear in the boy’s eyes
and knew his heavy breathing was a result of his being scared of something.
Mark still wasn’t fully awake and kept looking around, looking for something
unseen. “Mark, wake up son. I’m here. You’re just having a bad dream.”
Slowly, Mark realized he was in his bedroom and his
Pa was there with him, but even the comfort of his father’s arms and words
couldn’t stop his trembling.
“Pa, where’d that man go?” he asked as he still
continued look around and to doubt reality.
“What man?” Lucas asked are he lift his left hand to
the side of his son’s face, gently rubbing his thumb across the boy’s cheek.
“That man… His face was all disfigured, he walked
stooped over, and he… he… Pa, he was gunning for you.” The boy’s fear took
hold of his breath, “Pa! He’s gonna kill you!”
“Mark, you just had a bad dream. There’s no one here
but us,” Lucas said as he tried to get Mark to lie back down and attempted
pull the covers back over him.
Mark wasn’t quite ready to lie down and go back to
sleep, “But Pa, he was here. I saw him. You believe me… don’t you?”
“Son, imaginations can play funny tricks on us if we
let them. Please, just forget the dream and go back to sleep.”
“He was here… Pa…” Mark mumbled as he fought sleep.
Lucas continued to hold his son, as his son continued
to hold him. The father constantly rubbed his son’s back, comforting him
and hoping the gently strokes would lull his son back to sleep.
“It wasn’t a dream…” Mark mumbled as sleep won over
Lucas slipped Mark from his arms and pulled the cover
over the boy. He ran his fingers through his son’s brunette hair; smiling
at the innocence of youth and the dreams that came with it.
Morning came early to the McCain Ranch. As usual,
Mark was resistant to getting out of bed -- more so, resistant to getting to
“Mark, time to wake up. Breakfast is ready. Make
sure you wash your face and behind your ears before you get dressed.”
A few minutes later, have washed and dressed, Mark
came to the breakfast table and sat down. He toyed with his food, not quite
interested in eating.
“Son, what’s the matter? Are you feeling okay?”
Lucas was concerned that Mark might be coming down sick. Sometimes bad
dreams preceded an illness in his son.
“No Pa, I feel fine. It’s just that dream last
night. It seemed so real. I’m just having a hard time forgetting it.”
“Well you’ll forget all about it when you get to
school today. Mr. Griswold is teaching you about Ulysses S. Grant, from
being a general in the Civil War to becoming President, starting today.”
“Pa, since you fought in the War, maybe you can tell
me all about it and I wouldn’t have to go to school today. Please?” Mark
“No son. What I did and saw in the war, you’re not
ready to understand.” Lucas’ eyes seemed to wander for a moment as if
remembering something he’d prefer to forget.
“Why are we starting a new lesson on a Friday?” Mark
“I guess he’s hoping to get you children excited
about returning to school on Monday,” Lucas replied, knowing his son was
stalling, Lucas continued, “Finish your breakfast and off to school.”
“Okay Pa,” Mark said as he started to eat his
Morning class time was spent on grammar and the
multiplication tables. However, it was after lunch when Mr. Griswold
informed the children that they would be learning about Ulysses S. Grant, a
former President of the United States.
“The man we know as Ulysses S. Grant was really born
Hiram Ulysses Grant. He was born April 27, 1822. During the Civil War, he
was General-in-Chief of the Union Army from 1864 to 1865. He went on to
become the 18th President of the United States; serving in office from 1869
“President Grant is an excellent example of how
anyone, of U.S. birth, can grow up to become President. His father came
from humble beginning and was an Appalachian Tanner.
“In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Grant
as brigadier general of volunteers. During the Civil War, he declared his
first major victories during the war by capturing Forts Henry and Donelson
in Tennessee during 1862. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg and rescuing a
trapped Union army at Chattanooga, earned him the reputation as Lincoln’s
most successful general.
“It was in 1865 that Grant accepted the surrender of
Robert E. Lee
“Grant was elected President of the United States in
1868 and was re-elected in 1872, the first President to serve for two full
forty years before.
“Well students, I think that is a good start to your
introduction to Ulysses S. Grant. We’ll go into more detail each day. Class
is dismissed for the day,” Mr. Griswold said as he walked to the back of the
classroom to say goodbye to each student as they left for the weekend.
As they followed Mark to the hitching rail where
BlueBoy waited, Mark’s friends, Freddie Toomey and Bobby Hamilton, asked him
if he wanted to go fishing with them after school.
“Naw, I have to get back to Pa. Guess he’ll have
some chores for me to do today. I kind of forgot a couple yesterday. See
you Monday,” Mark said as he climbed in the saddle on BlueBoy.
As Mark rode home, his thoughts returned to Mr.
Griswold’s lesson about President Grant. Many times on his ride home from
school, the boy failed to pay attention to his surroundings and anything
that was going on around him since he knew BlueBoy knew the way home as well
as he did, when without warning, BlueBoy stopped. Taking a moment to catch
his balance, Mark exhaled and opened his eyes wide. In front of the pair
was a wagon, parked off to the side of the road. In the back of the wagon
was a man looking in a mirror. From behind, Mark watched and saw in the
mirror the man pulling at the skin on his nose. Mark watched in horror at
the gaping hole as the man pulled his nose off his face.
After hearing an involuntary scream, the man saw
Mark’s reflection in the mirror, turned around and yelled, “Boy, wait…!”
Without conscious thought, Mark wheeled BlueBoy for
home, not looking back; scared as he remembered his dream; fearing it was
becoming real and his pa’s life was in danger.
“Pa!, Pa!, He’s here! That man, he’s here!” Mark
yelled as he jumped down from BlueBoy and into the house, and ran smack dab
into his pa as he came from the bedroom.
“Whoa, son. What are you talking about? What man?”
Lucas asked as he reached down to steady his son.
“The man… from…. my dream,” Mark replied out of
breath. “He’s here!”
“Mark, you had to have been daydreaming while riding
BlueBoy home. Now, take him in the barn, unsaddle him, and brush him out
proper. Once you’re done there, come in the house and peel some potatoes
for supper,” Lucas said as he looked sternly at Mark.
“But Pa…” Mark protested.
“No buts, turn around and do as I say.”
“Pa… Yes sir,” Mark said as he walked out of the
house and led BlueBoy to the barn.
Setting his saddle on his rack, Mark tried to
remember exactly what he had seen on the road home. ‘Could I really have
seen what I dreamed?’
Supper was almost ready when the unmistakable sound
of a wagon arriving at the house was heard.
“Hello in the house,” a graveled voice called from
Lucas walked out to greet the visitor.
“Hello. How can I help you old timer?” Lucas asked.
Mark came out of the house to stand behind his Pa,
and quietly exclaimed, “Pa, that’s the man from earlier!”
“I’m looking for a man said to be living around these
here parts. He’s a war criminal and I aim to see he pays for his
transgressions,” the visitor forcefully informed Lucas as he propped his
foot against the front board of his wagon.
“Mark, get back in the house, now,” Lucas demanded of
Mark as he pushed him backwards, all the while not taking his eyes off the
“Mister, I don’t know of any war criminals around
North Fork and if this person is guilty of anything, the law should be
involved,” Lucas stated as he pulled his rifle from its holder just inside
“You know your neighbors, eh. I’m looking for a tall
man… about your height… name of Lucas McCain,” the stranger went on to say.
“Mister, if this is a joke, it’s a poor one. You
just keep on moving, get out of North Fork and don’t return here.” Lucas
said as he whirl cocked his rifle. “We don’t need any trouble makers
stirring up past history that’s dead and buried. The war’s been over a long
time. We don’t hold to vigilantes in these parts, so just you keep on
“Moving on? An old man like me, don’t see how I can
pose a threat to you, unless you be Lucas McCain. Hear tell he got himself
a pretty wife and a young son… boy’d be about thirteen years-old by now,
if’n I hear tell correctly, ” the stranger continued to talk and raised an
eyebrow at the defiant man who stood before him.
“Mister, you’re trying my patience, if you’re trying
to take me into custody…”
“Then you admit, you be Lucas McCain?”
“My name is Lucas McCain, but I assure you, I’m no
war criminal,” Lucas’ eyes dared the man to say otherwise as he raised his
“You fit the description, you admit you’re him…” the
stranger said as he cocked his head to the side.
“You best bring the law back with you.” Anger rose in
Lucas’ eyes, his temples throbbed with tension.
“Law?! Law you say?” and then the stranger’s voice
changed from old and graveled to one of assured authority. He no longer sat
hunched over in the seat of the wagon. He sat straight as if one trained in
the military. “Lucas, you should see yourself.” The man slapped his right
hand on his thigh, “Why I’m surprised you didn’t shoot me off this wagon
when I started,” the stranger started laughing as he reached for his face
and started to pull away skin.
“Pa, that’s him, see, I told you he tore his face
off!” Mark exclaimed from just inside the still opened doorway.
“Mister, I don’t know who you are, but you’re coming
close to my using this rifle on you.” Lucas was unsure where this scenario
was leading and he raised his rifle to his shoulder in an effort to defend
himself and his son.
“Don’t know who I am?” the voice laughed. “Well… let
me just get this make-up off and…” as his voice became muffled as he
continued pulling off his skin and a wig to show a somewhat younger man with
slightly greying temples, but still a dark-haired man now sitting before
Lucas’ eyes widened as he recognized the stranger.
“Artemus? Artemus Gordon? My God man, you….” Lucas lowered his rifle,
stepped down off the porch, and offered his hand to help the man down from
“About time you saw with your eyes, though I do say,
bravo to my performance. I couldn’t pass it up Lucas. The Shakespearean
Troupe that I travel with is in Santa Fe for a few weeks and I had heard
rumors that a Lucas McCain lived in North Fork. I asked around and found
out it was you and,” standing with a flourish, “here I am.”
Artemus gave a bow to his limited audience.
“Now, about that wife of yours, I can’t wait to meet
the woman who tamed wild Lucas McCain,” Artemus stated with eager
Lucas’ eyes beheld the sorrow he felt at the
reference to his late wife.
“Artemus, I lost my wife near seven years ago, back
in Enid, Oklahoma. Settled here almost four years ago with my boy, Mark.”
Giving himself a moment to recover, Lucas turned to the house and motioned
for Mark to come out. “Son, I’d like you to meet an OLD friend of
mine, Artemus Gordon, he’s a member of the Secret Service and one of his
duties was to protect President Grant.” Then turning to Artemus, “Artemus,
this is my son Mark.”
“Pleased to meet you Mr. Gordon. Did you really meet
President Grant? We’re learning about him in school,” Mark blurted out.
Before Artemus answered Mark, he looked at Lucas,
“Lucas, I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Only hear bits and pieces about people I
knew back from the war. Didn’t mean to dredge up bad memories.”
“I understand, I’ve come to terms with Margaret’s
death, it still hurts, but I’ve got Mark here.” There was sorrow and pride
in Lucas’ voice as he looked down at his son and hugged him tighter.
“Well now, young Mr. McCain. You’re learning about
President Grant, what stories I could tell you.” Artemus smiled to himself
as he stepped down from his wagon.
“Pa? Can we invite Mr. Gordon to stay for supper?”
“Only if you go in and set another place.”
“Yes, sir!” Mark exclaimed as he jumped through the
“Lucas, I didn’t come here to weasel a supper out of
you… And if I remember…” Artemus’ eyes lit with amusement.
“Don’t worry Artemus, my cooking is MUCH improved.
Believe me, otherwise I don’t think my son in there would be as old as he
Over supper Artemus told Mark stories of Ulysses
Grant and, during the tales, a number of times Lucas had to interrupt as he
felt the true story was a little “too grown-up” for Mark.
Finally, Lucas turned to Mark when he noticed Mark
was fighting to keep his eyes open. “Son, I think it’s time you get to bed.”
“Okay Pa. Goodnight Mr. Gordon. Will we see you
again?” Mark asked. “Pa, I can bring in a cot from the barn for Mr. Gordon
to sleep upon?”
“Not necessary my young friend, but I’ll be around.
Sure…we’ll see each other again.”
After Lucas made sure Mark was in bed and asleep, he
returned to the table and said, “Okay, tell me the real reason you’re here.
The truth. You’re not just passing through or to catch up on ‘old’ times.”
“Lucas, why don’t we step to the porch...”
Lucas realized there was more to his friend’s visit
and was thankful whatever the man had to say, he didn’t want the boy to
A few moments later, Artemus continued, “I’m planning
to meet James West near here. We’ve been re-activated by the Secret
Service. Both Jim and I knew you were in North Fork and heard you still
have a strong reputation with your rifle. We can really use your help,”
Artemus said matter-a-factly.
“I use my rifle to protect my own. I don’t go
looking for trouble,” Lucas declared.
“I know, but there’s no one else the Secret Service
can really trust,” Artemus replied.
“And just how can I help the Secret Service?”
“Well, it’s not really for the Secret Service, it’s
for us. President Chester Arthur has ordered us re-activated because
there’s already been one attempt on Jim’s life and the President fears that
someone is out for both of us. We made a lot of enemies before we retired.”
“There’s an assassination attempt on your lives and
you bring that danger to my home and my son?” Anger flashed across Lucas’
face, begrudging his former friend’s return.
“No Lucas, right now anyone who knows me, other than
you and Jim, believes I’m in Santa Fe with the troupe. I left in costume.
Sorry if I scared your boy earlier out on the road. He took off like he’d
see a ghost.”
“Well not really a ghost,” Lucas told Artemus of
Mark’s nightmare from the night before.
“So Artemus, what exactly do you and Jim need? How
do you expect me to help you?”
Artemus spoke in an emotionless tone, “We need you to
kill James West.”
A look of shock crossed Lucas’ face as he tried to
understand exactly what Artemus was asking of him.
“Lucas, you won’t really be killing him, I can make
some blank ammunition for your rifle and Jim will wear a device that would
make anyone that takes a look at him believe you shot him in the heart.
“Is there anyone here who could look after your boy
for a while? Once Jim is dead, I’m sure those that are out to assassinate
him will contact you. I’d really prefer your boy is out of any harm’s way.”
“Artemus, you’re asking a lot of me. I don’t go
looking for trouble and prefer to use my rifle as a means of last resort,”
concern was etched in Lucas’ brow. “Besides, if they’re out to kill Jim and
I do it, why would they contact me?”
“Lucas, right now, you’re the only one we trust and
know who could pull this off. Jim will be here on the ranch with you, I’ll
have him in make-up, maybe as a Mexican. He can be your hired hand. I need
to get back to Santa Fe to keep up our charade.”
“And what charade is that? You’ve not given me
“Lucas, I know we asked a lot of you back in the War,
but those times, you were under orders to assist us. Unfortunately, we need
an answer tonight.”
“You’ve not answered my question… Why? Why do you
“I can’t tell you that, but Jim will. I promise.
Lucas, we need you,” Artemus stated.
Knowing Artemus Gordon and Jim West worked in
mysterious ways, and they wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, Lucas
answered, “Okay, just let me get Mark over to Millie’s tomorrow morning.”
Lucas escorted Artemus out to his wagon and watched him drive away.
Sleep came late to Lucas as he lay in bed,
remembering back to his time during the war and some of the missions he had
been assigned to assist two men from the Secret Service.
It was early Saturday morning when the people of
North Fork took note as a stranger rode into their town. The man was
somewhat shorter than the average height of a man, but sitting upon his
horse, it wasn’t that obvious. The man was dressed in black, with a silver
inlaid black gun belt, riding a black stallion, with a silver-adorned black
saddle. He rode sitting straight in the saddle, he stopped and dismounted
at the hotel.
Those who watched him felt a foreboding fear this was
a hired gun and they worried who he was there to kill.
The stranger stepped to the boardwalk and tied his
horse to the hitching rail as his eyes drifted from one end of town to the
Later in the morning, a group of men dressed in worn
Confederate uniforms rode into town, stopped at the livery and left their
horses. As if still in the military, they proceeded in step over to the
saloon. As soon as they entered, uneasiness started to lie thick and heavy
in the previously buoyant air. Conversations quieted as the other patrons
sensed trouble and nervously glanced about the room; diverting their eyes
lest the men take offense. Barmen Sweeney, felt the room was like a powder
keg ready to explode.
It was early afternoon when Lucas and Mark rode into
town as they regularly did on Saturdays. The morning was spent finishing
their chores before heading to town.
“But Pa, why do I have to stay at Millie’s I don’t
understand,” Mark asked again, still not understanding why he couldn’t stay
“Mark, last night after you went to bed, Mr. Gordon
asked me to do a favor for him, I need to be out of town for a few days, so
you’re going to stay with Millie.”
“I’m old enough to stay home…”
“No you’re not. Son, please let’s not argue.
Besides, I thought you enjoyed staying with Millie?”
“Sure I do, but not all the time…”
They rode up in front of the General Store,
dismounted, and walked in.
“Morning Lucas, Mark,” Millie greeted from behind the
“Morning Millie. I need to go out of town for a few
days, thought Mark could stay with you.”
“Lucas, you know Mark’s always welcome to stay with
me anytime.” Turning to Mark, “Now Mark, let’s get your gear to the back
room and later we’ll get you to set up at my house.”
“Yes Miss Millie.”
“I don’t want you worrying about any chores at the
ranch, we did most of them this morning, and those we didn’t do can wait
until I get back. Now, you mind your manners and do as Millie says while
Lucas gave Mark a hug and walked out to Razor. His
son was now safe, but his mind whirled on how and when he was supposed to
kill Jim West.
Lucas turned as he heard his name called, “McCAIN!”
“That’s me,” he answered as he pulled his rifle from
its scabbard. He turned to face the man dressed in black.
“McCain, it’s been a long time since you put that
slug in me. I said if I ever saw you again, I’d return the favor,” the man
Millie and Mark came out the door of the General
Store, stopped and stared in disbelief at what was happening.
The men in uniform piled to the boardwalk from the
saloon to watch; eager to see the outcome of the impending gunfight.
Especially, as it appeared to be a fast six gunner against a sodbuster with
a rifle. They watched the scene play out in front of them.
“That was the war. The war’s long been over. It’s
time to put grievances behind us,” Lucas called back.
“Grievances? It was a bullet, not a grievance you
put in me. The war’s never over for me.” The stranger went for his gun,
clearing his holster, but Lucas was faster. Soon the man in black lay in
the middle of the street. Lucas ran to the man and knelt by his side,
placed his ear to the man’s chest, with his face towards the man’s face.
“Jim, I wish you’d given me more notice, I didn’t want my boy to see this.”
Sitting up to face the crowd, Lucas proclaimed the
As the crowd circled around Lucas, he picked up the
man, slung him over his shoulder, and carried him over to Doc Burrage’s
office. Mark was on his Pa’s heels before Lucas laid the man down on the
“Mark, get out of here. Get to Millie’s,” Lucas
“Do as I say boy.” The tone of Lucas’ voice was firm
enough that Mark knew he better do as his pa said.
Doc Burrage entered his office and pushed everyone
except Lucas out the door. Lucas turned and pulled the blinds over the
After an initial examination Doc turned to Lucas and
exclaimed, “Lucas.., the blood on his shirt? There’s no bullet hole. I
don’t understand…this man’s alive.”
“Doc, I need to let you in on a little secret.”
Turning to the man lying on the table, Lucas stated, “Jim, I think we have a
little explaining to do.”
Jim West sat up on the table.
“Doc, this is Jim West, he’s with the Secret Service
and he’s asked for my help. Jim, this is our town doctor, Doc Burrage.”
“Lucas, I… I…” Doc stumbled for what to say next.
“Doc, as far as everyone out on the street, they need
to believe that I shot and killed Jim. It’s real important that no one
knows he’s still alive,” Lucas informed Doc.
“Doc,” Jim started to say, “I’m under orders from
President Arthur.” Turning to Lucas he continued, “Lucas, I know some of
what Artemus told you last night, however, I’ve discovered it’s more than
just a plot against Artemus and me. The next step we feel would be an
assassination attempt on the President. We lost President Garfield to an
assassination; we can’t lose two in a row.”
“Guess I have no choice but to keep this secret.
I’ll work with Nils to make a coffin and somehow get you into it and out of
it.” Turning Lucas and scratching his head, the doctor asked, “Just how
long am I supposed to keep this secret?”
“Until we find out who’s trying to assassinate the
President,” answered Jim.
Wishing he had never met Jim or Artemus, Lucas turned
to leave the doctor’s office as Jim became a dead man.
“Lucas!” Called Millie as she walked to meet him next
to Razor, “Lucas, do you still have to go? Mark needs you right now.”
“Millie, I’m sorry, but this can’t wait. Tell Micah
when he gets back that I’ll help him file a report when I return. Take care
of my boy.” With that, Lucas mounted and rode out of town.
Returning to the General Store, Millie saw Mark
standing on the boardwalk, arm wrapped around one of the posts supporting
the roof overhang.
“Mark?” Millie asked as she tried to escort the boy
“Why?” Mark asked as he looked up.
“Your father was pro…”
“I know that…” As the first tear began to fall Mark
said, “Why did he want to kill my Pa?”
Pulling the boy to her and hugging him, Millie
answered, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Millie walked the boy into her store, away from
prying eyes of their friends and neighbors.
The Confederates not yet re-entered the bar as they
watched Lucas ride out of town. Without saying a word, they went and
collected their horses.
Lucas arrived back at the ranch, he led Razor into
the barn and unsaddled him and brushed him out. His mind was a jumble of
images with all that had happened in the last twenty-four hours. ‘What
have I let myself in for?’
Entering his home, he walked to his desk, sat down at
the chair and looked to the picture that stared lovingly at him.
“Margaret, don’t be mad at me…”
Just as Lucas was sitting down for supper, he heard a
knock at the door. Striding over, Lucas opened the door to see an old
Mexican man who appeared to be down on his luck.
“Sir, looking for a little shelter for the night.
Could me and my horse sleep in your barn?”
Looking beyond the man to the old horse that stood in
the yard, Lucas replied, “I guess… If you’re hungry I’ve got some stew on
“Mighty… thoughtful… of you sir,” the man state in
halting, but still good English, as the man walked into the house and Lucas
shut the door. “One can get pure hungry… playing a dead man.” The man’s
voice changed as he stood straight. Lucas turned around to realize he’d
just let Jim West into his home.
“Lucas, I’m sorry about in town. Didn’t know you had
your boy with you and earlier I saw a group of men dressed in Confederate
uniforms ride into town, so I had to make my play.”
“That’s okay, Jim. It’s just that I don’t like
keeping secrets from him. I hate not being able to tell him the truth.”
Lucas placed his rifle in its holder next to the
door, walked into the kitchen, and proceeded to fix Jim a bowl of stew.
“So, tell me, what have I gotten myself into?” Lucas
asked as they sat down at the table.
“What did Artemus tell you?”
“No much, only the President had re-activated both of
you after an assassination attempt on your life…” Lucas replied. “Said
you’d tell me the rest. Damn it Jim, why couldn’t you have stopped by last
night and talked with me. I could have killed you today!”
“But you didn’t, Artemus told you how we could fake
your killing me.”
“I know, I know!” a frustrated Lucas declared. “I
don’t like being used.”
“Lucas, I’m sorry, but this is blowing up faster than
any of us figured. Neither Artemus or I could figure out why someone would
try to kill me, especially after all this time. Like you said, the war’s
been over a long time. Still… I’ve done some further investigation and we
feel confident that this assassination attempt on the President might be
made by those Confederates I mentioned earlier. They’re led by a Colonel
Danforth. He served directly under Robert E. Lee, however, he swore he’d
never surrender and would fight to the end.”
“But after all this time?” Lucas asked.
“I know is sounds surreal… We believe that once he’s
convinced I’m dead, that he’ll probably contact you and try to hire you to
kill President Arthur. They were after me because they know how I work.
Scared I could foil their plot. I didn’t know exactly who ‘they’ were,
until I got to North Fork and saw them. I don’t think they’ll go after
Artemus from new information I’ve ascertained.”
“But why have me kill you?” Lucas stated.
“Because then Artemus and I can work on the outside.
If I were still alive or killed at their hands, Danforth’s men would make
the move and we couldn’t control what that move might be. This way… I’m
praying they make contact with you and…”
“You can still be in control,” Lucas answered shaking
his head. “Just like old times.”
“Just like old times, let the others think they’re in
control…” mused Jim.
“So, we sit here and wait?” Lucas asked.
“Unfortunately, yes. Just go about your regular work
around the ranch and I’ll hire on as a hand to help out. About time that I
become Ol’ Pedro again and turn in out in the barn.” Teasingly Jim
said, “I don’t see how Artie wears this makeup stuff all the time, it’s damn
uncomfortable. See you in the morning.”
Lucas saw Jim/’Pedro’ to the barn, returned to the
house and turned in for the night. As he laid down on his bunk he fretted
about the risk he was taking, and the risk of his growing up as an orphan if
things didn’t go right.
The next morning as Lucas and ‘Pedro’ were mucking
stall,s a small group of riders dressed in Confederate uniforms approached
the ranch. Lucas and Pedro walked out from the barn to greet the riders.
“Good day gentlemen, what can I do for you?”
“My name is Colonel Danforth of the Confederate
States of America.”
“Confederate States?” asked Lucas. “I thought the
Confederacy died at the end of the Civil War.”
“It will never die! Not as long as her sons live and
breathe,” one of the men behind the colonel boldly declared.
“Enough!” Turning back to Lucas, Danforth
continued, “You, sir, can hire your services with your rifle to us.”
“Mister, I don’t hire my gun out to any one for any
reason,” Lucas sharply answered.
“You’ve already done one task for me in killing James
West yesterday in town. I had a thousand dollar bounty on him.”
Danforth tossed a small bag to Lucas, he heard the
sound of coins as the bag hit the ground and came to rest at his feet.
“I took no pleasure in killing that man yesterday.
The war’s long over and people need to live in the here and now.” Lucas
looked over at ‘Pedro’ for guidance and saw him nod his head.
“The here and now is what we want to talk to you
about. They call this the United States of America, there’s nothing
united about it. They keep putting more damn Yankees in office. I aim
to see that there’s a real man put in power as the President of the United
States, a man of Southern upbringing, Southern understanding.” Colonel
Danforth drew his pistol on Lucas, “Now either you agree to hire on to us to
kill President Chester A. Arthur or I kill you and your hired hand where you
The rest of the men in Danforth’s group chose that
moment to make their presence known by riding in from the back side of the
“Guess you give me no other choice. So just how am I
supposed to kill the President, he’s in Washington.” Lucas feigned the tint
of defeat in his voice.
“We’ve been alerted that he’s arriving in North Fork
on Tuesday. Why do you think your Marshal has been out of town the past
week? We know he was ordered to Santa Fe to be briefed on the President’s
arrival. No one is supposed to know about this trip, but I have my
There was a look of shock on Lucas’ face as he looked
at ‘Pedro’. Who elevated his shoulders as if to say ‘I didn’t know’.
The rest of Sunday, the Confederates spent the day
lounging around the house. Waiting. Laughing. Smoking. Drinking.
Monday was no easier -- the waiting. ‘How am I
going to get myself out of this mess? What do I do when the President
arrives in North Fork?’ Lucas kept worrying. ‘How can I kill the
When Lucas stepped from the house, he noticed the
Confederates were wearing ‘range’ clothing. Worried they no longer wore
their uniforms, Lucas asked himself, ‘What does this mean?’
It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when the
sounds of a horse could be heard running across the wooden bridge that
crossed the gulley behind their home. Lucas ran out the barn door; to his
horror he saw Mark riding up to the barn.
“Pa, what are you doing here?” Mark asked as his
confusion showed on his face.
“Mark,” Lucas said sternly, “Get out of here and get
back to town now! Get!” Lucas tried to turn BlueBoy around to send Mark on
But before Lucas could get Mark out of harm’s way,
Colonel Danforth had followed Lucas and took hold of the reins.
“Now, Mr. McCain, that’s no way to treat your boy,
he’s come home to see you.” There was a look of pure evil in Danforth’s
eyes. He turned to Mark and asked, “Boy, where’ve you been the past few
Mark didn’t answer, he only looked to his Pa, and
then at the colonel. “Pa?”
Danforth grabbed Mark out of the saddle and asked
again, “Where’ve you been boy?”
Lucas thought fast and hard on how to get Mark out of
there, get him away from danger. “Leave my boy be! He’s been in town with
his Ma. We don’t live together anymore. He sneaks out here every now and
then to spend time with me. She doesn’t know when he comes here.”
Mark looked at Lucas in fear and bewilderment, scared
at the grip the colonel had on his arms and confusion to why his Pa said he
was in town with his Ma.
Lucas continued, “Let me send the boy home. He won’t
tell anyone you’re here. Please, he’s just a boy.”
“See Mr. McCain, I can’t take that chance. His Ma
will just have to worry. Maybe we get to see the misses when she
comes out to tell you her boy is missing.” Danforth’s voice held warning
that he was not above hurting innocent. The colonel stared at Lucas and
ruffled Mark’s hair, without warning Danforth shoved Mark towards Lucas, his
other hand on the handle of his holstered gun.
In an effort to protect his son, Lucas said, “Mark,
get to the barn and muck those stalls like you like doing. I’ll be in there
shortly to help.” Lucas gently pushed Mark towards the barn and watched as
he hesitantly entered. Pointing his finger to the colonel, Lucas continued,
“Colonel, I told you I’d help you, but you keep my boy out of this. If he’s
hurt in any way, I’ll come for you. You’ll be a dead man walking before I
get done with you.”
“Mr. McCain, just do as I say and there won’t be any
need for violence towards your son.”
Danforth squared his shoulders before he walked away
and returned to the home.
Mark walked into the barn, still confused, trying to
understand what was happening, ‘Pa saying I’m in town with my Ma, and …
and just who are those men?’ Before Mark could walk to where the
pitchfork was leaning against one of the support posts in the barn, an arm
grabbed him around his shoulders and a hand covered his mouth; the boy
stiffened in fear before he started struggling.
A voice in his ear told him, “Mark, don’t struggle,
I’m a friend of Artemus Gordon, your Pa knows I’m here, and he and I were
good friends during the War.”
Mark quit struggling; as he was released, he turned
around and looked at the Mexican standing in front of him. “Your voice
doesn’t sound like a Mexican, but your clothes…”
“Mark, I’m in disguise. Remember in town on
Saturday, the gun fight your pa had?” Mark nodded. “I’m the man your pa ‘killed’,
we had to play act. He didn’t kill me, but we needed for everyone else to
believe he did.”
“Are you in the Secret Service too?” Mark quietly
asked, looking around to make sure no one was close to over hear their
“Yes, for a long time Artemus and I were a team, we
retired a few years back, but President Arthur pulled us out of retirement.
We needed someone we could trust and who was outside of Washington, and
naturally we thought of your Pa.”
Momentarily Mark was thrilled these men thought so
highly of his father, until he heard the barn door open and saw the look on
his Pa’s face as he entered.
Lucas closed the door behind him, “Mark, what are you
doing here?” he demanded, fighting against grabbing his son’s arm.
“Pa, I wanted to… I came to do my chores. You
didn’t go anywhere? You’ve been here all the time? Pa, who are those men?”
Mark asked in confusion.
“Mark, I just wished you’d minded me. I told you not
to worry about any chores.”
“I’m sorry Pa, I wanted to surprise you…” the boy
hung his head, knowing how much he had disappointed his Pa.
“That’s okay Mark, just go clean the stalls,” Lucas
replied, giving Mark a swat on the butt as he walked away.
Turning to ‘Pedro’, “Jim, I can’t do this, not with
my boy here.”
“Lucas, please, we’re so close. I’ll keep the boy
safe. If Danforth is correct, we only have until tomorrow.”
“Did you know Arthur was coming here?” Lucas asked.
“No, neither Artemus nor I knew. But it wouldn’t
surprise me if the Secret Service is setting all of us up in order to force
Danforth to show his hand.”
“You had better pray we can pull this off, because so
help me… If any harm comes to Mark…” Lucas let his words go unspoken, but
his eyes conveyed his deadly intent.
“I’ll do my best to protect your son, Lucas.”
Chores in the barn were completed when Lucas, Mark,
and ‘Pedro’ walked to the house to prepare supper for everyone.
Supper was eaten in silence, except for the scraping
of utensils upon plates. Afterwards, Mark and ‘Pedro’ did dishes. ‘Pedro’
quietly said, “Mark, I need you to keep as close to me as possible. I
promised your Pa I’d look after you. If I yell ‘get gown’, I want you to
fall to the ground as fast as possible, cover your head, and don’t look up
until you either hear me or your Pa say it’s okay to get up. Understand?”
“Son, do you?” Jim asked, his voice and expression
indicated the seriousness of the situation.
“I’m scared of those men,” answered Mark while
“I know you are,” Jim replied.
Lucas stepped out on the porch, lit a cigar, and
contemplated what he was going to do. ‘Mark’s being here changes
everything.’ He pounded the side of his fisted hand into the porch
As Lucas looked out over the landscape, the fading
sun reflecting on dust alerted Lucas to more arrivals and he watched a
carriage coming down the road to their home.
‘Well, at least it isn’t Millie coming to look for
Mark. That would add a whole new complexity to the situation.’
“Danforth, there’s a carriage coming, get out here,”
Lucas yelled into the house.
Danforth and Lucas watched as the carriage drew near
and stopped in front of the barn.
“Good evening gentlemen, it seems we’re a little
lost. We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up here. Are we
far from North Fork?” the driver asked.
Lucas looked at Danforth, who motioned Lucas on.
“Not too far. Had planned to fix the sign out on the road, some of the boys
were fooling around with it the other day and got it turned all around.” As
Lucas finished talking, the door to the carriage opened and out stepped
“My good man, do you mind if we rest up here for a
while? Don’t want the citizens of North Fork to see me disheveled and all,”
said the President as he fussed with the buttons on the front of his
“No sir, I’d be honored to have you as my guest,”
“Fresh air, nice homestead, rough country. This is
America,” President Arthur stated and he drew in a deep breath of air.
“This way Mr. President, I’ve a pot of hot coffee on
the stove, if you’re interested,” offered Lucas.
“Lead on my good man.”
Lucas led President Arthur inside. “Mr. President,
this is my son, Mark, and this is my hired hand ‘Pedro’. The others… are
travelers, stopping for a break themselves.”
Mark offered his hand to the President, “Pleased to
meet you Mr. President. Mr. Griswold, my… my schoolteacher, he’s been
teaching us about President Grant. I’m sure he’ll start to teach us about
The President laughed, “We’ll see what the history
books have to say about me in the future.” He accepted the cup of coffee
from Lucas and sat down at the table.
Danforth motioned for Lucas to move outside. Once
outside, “This couldn’t be any better, you’ll kill him tonight. I’ll take
him out for a walk on the porch and you’ll kill him from the barn. If you
don’t, remember, your son is here, and one of my men will be close to him.”
They returned to the house and casually chatted with
the President and his men.
The sun had set when Lucas told Mark it was time for
him to turn in.
“Yes sir,” Mark replied as he headed for the bedroom.
“Mr. President, I’ll go tend to your horses,” Lucas
said as he walked out of the house.
Colonel Danforth started a conversation with the
President, “Mr. President, beautiful country we have out here. It’s rough
and violent at times, but the beauty… Have you seen the nighttime sky over
the hills outside here? I’d be honored if you’d walk with me out on the
Both men walked out the door and to the porch.
One of the Colonel’s men held a gun on Lucas as he
waited with his rifle inside the barn door. He had no choice. One man
behind him, others were still in the house with Mark. He felt the barrel of
the gun press against his spine and heard the click and the weapon was
cocked. Lucas bid his time, aimed his shot and pulled the trigger.
President Arthur fell to the ground, clutching his chest.
“God forgive men…” Lucas breathed as he lowered his
The colonel yelled for his men to come. Lucas ran to
the President, lowered his head to his chest, and listened.
“He’s dead!” Lucas declared upon not finding a
Mark ran out the door and saw his Pa kneeling next to
Danforth stood over Lucas’ shoulder and from the
light of the window, saw the sheen of blood spread across the front of the
President’s jacket, “Well now, Mr. McCain, you held up your end of the
agreement and I will hold up mine. MEN, saddle up, we’re leaving.”
As the colonel and his men were walking to the barn,
“Mark! GET DOWN! HIT THE GROUND!” Jim yelled.
From his hip, Lucas fired his rifle and Jim had a
pistol in hand. Lucas dove from the porch while Jim threw his body upon the
young boy in an effort to protect him. When the gunfire ceased, Colonel
Danforth and his men were incapacitated or dead.
“You at the house, is everyone okay?” came a voice
came from the shadows.
“We’re okay. Come on in,” yelled Jim, forgetting his
Soon a small cavalry detail arrived in the yard of
the McCain homestead.
Lucas ran back to Mark, “Mark, son, are you okay?”
Fear was in Lucas’ voice as he lifted his son. He’d never forgive himself
for agreeing to help Gordon and West if anything had happened to Mark.
“I’m okay Pa,” Mark answered as he stood up from the
ground. “Pa, look, it’s another President Arthur.” The boy pointed.
Lucas turned around to see a captain assisting
another President Arthur from the horse he rode.
He turned to look at the man he’d shot on the porch,
to see ‘Pedro’ assisting him to his feet.
“Pa, are they twins?” Mark asked, looking from one
President to the other.
“No boy, but sometimes it is quite fun pretending to
be the President.” The man removed his make-up to reveal that standing in
front of everyone was Artemus Gordon. “Lucas, I’m glad you decided to take
a chest shot and not a headshot tonight.”
“But how, I know the bullets in my rifle weren’t
blanks this time,” Lucas stated as he walked towards the man he shot.
Artemus unbuttoned his shirt and pulled wadding out.
“I had myself well padded, to make it more believable that I was President
Arthur. The padding and a piece of metal deflected your bullet. Still
packs a whallop, though.” Artemus rubbed his chest.
Lucas went back to Mark, placed a hand on his
shoulder, and walked over to the real President Arthur.
“Mr. President, won’t you come in and sit a spell.
I’m sure that horse isn’t quite as comfortable as the carriage you’re used
to riding in,” Lucas offered.
“Thank you. I think we’ll take you up on your offer,”
answered the President.
President Chester A. Arthur entered the homestead and
smiled. Lucas, Mark, Jim, and Artemus followed the President.
Upon taking a seat at the table, Arthur stated,
“Guess I’ve gone soft sitting in Washington. I remember as a boy I spent
countless hours in the saddle.”
Upon pouring a cup of coffee for the adults, Lucas
heard a horse coming across the bridge.
As he stepped to the porch, Lucas saw Micah pull the
horse and buggy from the livery to a halt, Millie sat next to him.
“LucasBoy! Millie said you were out of town,” Micah
stated in surprise. “I just got back in town and she was frantic, said Mark
was missing. What’s going on here?” Micah asked, seeing soldiers coming out
from the barn and others coming out from beside the house.
“Micah, it’s a long story. Tell you what, let me
have Mark get dressed, we’re going to take President Arthur on in to North
Fork, we’ll spend the night at the hotel. Guess we have a lot of explaining
“President Arthur’s here?” Millie asked.
“It’s a long story,” replied Lucas.
So it was that everyone left the McCain ranch and
headed to North Fork. Upon arrival at the hotel, rooms were reserved for
the President as well as Artemus and Jim, and the McCains. As the two
Secret Service agents went to their rooms to change into their normal
clothes, the restaurant was cordoned off so private conversations could be
As everyone sat in the restaurant, President Arthur
started the conversation. “Well Mr. Gordon, I’ll need to talk to you a
little bit about your disguises. I don’t believe that I am quite THAT fat.”
Everyone had a good laugh at the President’s expense.
“Mr. West, I do wish to thank you and Mr. Gordon for
coming out of retirement to my rescue. You are quite right that our Country
can’t afford to lose two Presidents to assassination back to back; too close
from Lincoln to Garfield as it was.
“When I return to Washington I’ll re-instate your
retirement. Or maybe you’ve grown a little tired of being out of The
Service?” He looked from West to Gordon and smiled when he saw both were
“Marshal Torrance, I hope you’ll forgive the little
subterfuge that was played upon your town?” Arthur asked.
“I guess I can be forgiving, but Lucas, you have some
serious questions to answer in the morning,” Micah stated.
Turning to Lucas, President Arthur spoke, “Mr.
McCain, I am terribly sorry that our plot to reveal the true identity of my
potential assassins required involving you and because of that, your son was
put at risk. Please accept my apologies and my humble gratitude.”
“You’re quite welcome Mr. President,” Lucas smiled as
he looked at his boy.
The President continued, “Mr. McCain, this country is
growing, I’m sure one day New Mexico will be granted statehood. Hopefully,
we’ll be there to see it. I’m sure with upstanding citizens and people who
care, like those here in North Fork, this territory will be ready for
As the conversations continued late into the night,
it was President Arthur who noticed that Mark had fallen asleep on a couch
to the side of the dining room. The President walked over to where Mark
lie, pulled a blanket from the back of the couch and placed it over Mark.
“Yes, young Mark, one day this Territory will be a State. I wonder what
adventures await you when that day comes?”
The President turned back to the group, noticed that
Lucas was nodding and smiling as an appreciative father.